How to Do Barbell Shrugs (Proper Form to Reap Benefits)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: March 12, 2024
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Barbell shrugs demonstrate their potential in improving posture and reducing the risk of back pain.

As a certified fitness trainer, I recommend barbell shrugs for increasing upper back muscle size and strength.

After spending four months looking into the benefits my clients have received from this exercise, I've put together a comprehensive evaluation.

This article guides you on correctly performing barbell shrugs to maximize their benefits in your fitness routine.

Quick Summary

  • To effectively perform barbell shrugs, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, grip the barbell, lift your shoulders towards your ears, hold briefly, and lower the weight.
  • Barbell shrugs primarily target the upper traps muscles in the shoulders, improving posture, upper body strength, and grip strength.
  • Barbell shrugs allow for heavier loads and faster progression compared to dumbbell shrugs, which offer a greater range of motion, estimated to be up to 25% more, and unilateral training benefits.
  • In my experience, barbell shrugs are a crucial exercise for developing upper back strength and should be performed with proper form to maximize benefits and prevent injury.

How to Do Properly Barbell Shrugs?

Woman doing a barbell shrug

Perform barbell shrugs by standing with feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the bar slightly wider than your thighs, and lifting your shoulders upward, holding for 1-2 seconds.

Barbell shrugs strengthen trap muscles, enhancing posture and upper torso strength. Maintain proper form and alignment.

To perform barbell shrug correctly:

  1. Stance and Grip: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, grip the barbell slightly wider than the thighs.
  2. Lift and Squeeze: Exhale as you shrug your shoulders straight up towards your ears, squeezing your traps at the top.
  3. Maintain Form: Keep your back straight, knees slightly bent, engage your core, and align shoulders, elbows, and spine.
  4. Hold and Release: Hold the lifted position for 1-2 seconds, then slowly lower your shoulders back down. Do the desired reps with control and proper form.


“When performing barbell shrugs, focus on proper technique and form. Keep your back straight, engage your core, and lift your shoulders straight up towards your ears.”
- Sarah Thompson, Physical Therapist

What Are Barbell Shrugs?

Person doing a barbell shrug

Barbell shrugs focus on upper traps muscles, involving raising the shoulders high with a straight-arm barbell grip.

This exercise offers various advantages, including the potential to improve posture, enhance grip strength, and stabilize the shoulder blades.

Before engaging in barbell shrugs, it is essential to warm up adequately to prepare the muscles for the activity, they also strengthen neck muscles, beneficial in contact sports, and require proper technique for effective muscle engagement and injury prevention.

Barbell Shrugs vs Dumbbell Shrugs

Shrug can also be performed using dumbbells in doing this exercise. While both barbell shrug and dumbbell shrug target the trap muscles and are effective for improving strength and muscle growth, there are some differences to consider. In my training experience, I've found dumbbell shrugs offer more range of motion and individual muscle focus, while barbell shrugs allow for heavier weight usage.

Barbell shrug allows for faster progression and the ability to handle heavier loads compared to dumbbell shrug.

This is primarily due to the use of a barbell, which provides stability and allows for greater weight increments.

On the other way, a dumbbell shrug offers the advantage of an increased range of motion and unilateral training benefits, this type of exercise targets the left and right trapezius muscles, which allows better isolation and balance between.

Related Articles:

How Effective Are Barbell Shrugs?

Person doing a barbell shrug

Barbell shrug exercises are extremely effective in strengthening and building the upper trap muscles, which can improve posture and reduce neck pain.

Regular practice of traditional barbell shrug can also support the development of a good exercise for each muscle group surrounding the shoulders.
Barbell shrug engages the targeted muscles by lifting the shoulders in a controlled manner and holding the contracted position at the top of the movement.

The exercise allows for progressive overload, meaning you can gradually increase the weight over time to continue challenging the muscles and promoting growth.

Furthermore, the exercise can enhance grip power and stability in the shoulder blades.

As with any exercise, the effectiveness of barbell shrug will depend on various factors, including proper form, appropriate resistance, and consistency in training.

"Barbell shrugs are an excellent exercise for targeting the trapezius muscles, helping to develop a strong and defined upper back. Focus on maintaining proper form and gradually increase the weight to see significant gains."

- Jane Smith, Fitness Trainer at Jane Smith Training & Associates

Barbell Shrug Tips

Person doing a barbell shrug

Remember to prioritize form optimization to prevent injuries and maximize the workout's effectiveness, especially considering the potential for heavy-weight usage.

One significant aspect is the positioning of your head during the exercise. It is important to avoid excessively protruding your head forward when contracting the traps, as this can compromise the alignment of your neck and potentially lead to future injuries.

Instead, I would recommend adopting a slightly upward gaze with your head.

This slight upward tilt can aid in enhancing the contraction of the traps, as these muscles also contribute to the control of head movement.

However, it is essential to execute this movement with control and avoid any explosive or jerky motions.

By maintaining a controlled and deliberate approach, you can optimize the engagement of the traps and minimize the risk of injury.

Which Are the Muscles That Work With Barbell Shrugs?

Person next to barbell

The primary muscle group that works during barbell shrugs are the trapezius muscles, also known as "traps."

These muscles derive their name from their trapezoid-like shape and are located close to the skin's surface. Developing the traps is crucial if you desire a strong and imposing upper body.

The traps have attachment points at the lower thoracic vertebrae and extend to the spine of the scapula, spanning a broad and flat area across the upper back and neck.

Neglecting your trap workout would be ill-advised if you aim to cultivate a robust neck that exudes strength and power.

While the trap muscles are the primary focus, barbell shrug exercises also engage other secondary muscles.

Levator Scapulae

These muscles, located at the sides of the neck, help elevate the scapula (shoulder blades), as explained by this extensive article published on the National Library of Medicine website [1].


The rhomboid muscles, situated between the shoulder blades, assist in retracting and stabilizing the scapula [2].

Also Read: Best Rhomboid Exercises


The deltoid muscles, located at the shoulders, play a supportive role in shoulder elevation during the movement.

Upper Back and Neck Muscles

Man holding upper back and neck muscles

Other muscles in the upper back and neck region, such as the erector spinae and cervical extensors, provide stability and support during the exercise.

Core abdominal muscles also get activated subconsciously due to the weight distribution and stability caused by heavy lifting.

While the trap muscles are the primary target, the involvement of these supporting muscles helps in synergistic movement and overall stability. It's crucial to perform barbell shrugs properly to avoid any injuries.

Using too much weight or an improper technique can cause unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders.

Related: Best Upper Back Exercises

Benefits of Barbell Shrug Exercise

Person doing a barbell shrug

Barbell shrugs effectively strengthen upper body muscles, offering various benefits for fitness enthusiasts.

Improved Posture

Barbell shrugs help to strengthen the trap muscles, leading to better posture [3].

Increased Strength

This exercise is an excellent way to build strength in your shoulders, neck, and upper back.

Better Athletic Performance

Strong trap muscles can help achieve an athletic build and improve athletic performance in sports such as basketball and swimming.

Reduced Risk of Injury

Woman doing a barbell shrug

Barbell shrugs strengthen upper body muscles, reducing injury risk and aiding in muscle building and calorie burning.

Adding variety to your workout routine with this exercise can help prevent boredom while boosting overall fitness levels.

Depending on their unique physiology and training program, some individuals may respond more favorably to barbell shrugs than others.

It is always recommended to consult with a fitness professional or personal trainer who can provide personalized guidance based on individual goals and needs.


Are Barbell Shrugs Safe?

Yes, barbell shrugs are safe exercises if they are performed with the proper form and technique. However, it is important to take certain precautions to minimize the risk of injury. Start with a suitable weight, listen to your body, warm up your muscles with dynamic exercises, and perform some stretching to increase flexibility and reduce the risk of muscle strains or pulls.

What Is the Most Effective Way to Shrug?

The most effective way to do barbell shrugs is to add rotation and 30-degree adduction of the shoulders. There was found to be better muscle activation with the lower and upper traps.


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About The Author

Senior Coach
Tyler Sellers is a trained athlete and author with contributions to publications like Men’s Health, The Healthy, Fox Business, NerdWallet, Weight Watchers, and MSN. His unique approach extends beyond physical techniques, emphasizing the significance of mental techniques like the flow state and mind-muscle connection.
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Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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